How to Get a Cool Dashboard Up and Running Fast

May 18, 2018

cool-dashboard-running-fast

One of the things I love about Microsoft’s Power BI tool is how easy it makes it to create a cool dashboard and get it up and running fast.

Anytime you are learning something new, it is super-helpful to get a quick win under your belt. With Power BI, once you prove to yourself that you can create your first dashboard quickly, you can then choose to dive into the more powerful features of the tool and discover the almost endless ways to visualize your data and turn it into shareable insights.

In years past, using powerful dashboard software meant you had to design and plan a huge and expensive IT project… before you ever started to create your first dashboard. Not anymore. Now you can create it fast… without spending a dime.

Creating a Cool Dashboard on Your Phone - FAST

In this article, I will walk you through the steps to get a dashboard up and running fast on your computer, tablet, and smartphone. I’ll be using Microsoft’s Power BI tool.

The steps will include:

  1. Download Power BI desktop (it is free). In the process, you will create an account with Power BI (you can use the free account or do the 60-day free trial).
  2. Import the Excel file with example data into Power BI (I provide the link to the Excel file below).
  3. Create four visualizations of the data/metrics in Power BI then “publish” the result to your Power BI online account.
  4. Adjust the dashboard for “Phone View” so it looks good on a computer and a mobile device.
  5. Download the Power BI mobile app to your smartphone then view your dashboard from your phone.

Let’s look at each step in more detail. The short video below walks you through each step of the process.


Download Power BI Desktop

Go to https://powerbi.microsoft.com and click on the Start Free button.

Then use the Download Free button to download the Power BI Desktop application. I suggest you choose to download it as an app from the Microsoft store because it will automatically update every month as new releases come out. While you can also create visual reports and dashboards online, the desktop version has additional features that will come in handy as you get started with Power BI.

The next step is to use the Try Free button to setup a free 60-day trial of Power BI online. This gets you access to the Power BI service online where you will “publish” your reports and create and manage your dashboards. The service is free if you do not want to share dashboards with other people. The Pro version, if you want to share your dashboards, is about $10 per month after the free trial.

Import the Excel File with Example Data

I have created a data set that you can download then load into Power BI. It is a spreadsheet file with weekly information on amount invoiced, amount collected, bank balance, accounts receivable balance, and metrics related to those amounts. Click here to download the file.

The company in this example was capturing weekly information in a spreadsheet in order to provide senior management with a quick view of key financial drivers for the week. What we want to do now is load that data in Power BI and create a more visual view of the data and the trends in the form of a dashboard that looks good on a phone.

Remember, we are keeping the example simple to show you how fast you can get something really cool up and running fast. So, we are loading the data from a spreadsheet as opposed to hooking up directly to a financial database.

Now open Power BI Desktop.

Choose Get Data, then Excel as the file type, and push the Connect button. Select the spreadsheet file you downloaded, choose the tab in the spreadsheet that has the data (it is named PBI Format), then push the Load button.

Create Four Visualizations and Publish

Now we want to create four visualizations on our blank “canvas”. When you are done it will look similar to the image below:

bi-data-visualization

I encourage you to watch the short video above to see how fast these four visuals can be created.

The visual at the top left is a KPI. Drag the Bank Balance field to the Indicator box. Then drag the Week Ending field to the Trend Axis box. The visual shows the most recent bank balance is $2.02 million. In the background it shows the trend of the bank balance for the period being displayed.

The period being displayed is controlled by the Slicer visual at the top right. A slicer is a super cool way to make your dashboards interactive. Drag the Week Ending field into the field box. Then you can drag/adjust the left or right side of the slider to control which periods in the file are displayed on the page (it changes the period displayed in each visual).

The bar chart in the middle is a Line & Stacked Column Chart. Drag the Week Ending field to the Shared Axis box, the Invoiced field to the Column Values box, and the Invoiced Target field to the Line Values box. Then apply some formatting so the values are displayed the way you want them to (see the video above).

The table at the bottom is the Table visual. Drag the Week Ending, Invoiced, Collected, Bank Balance, and A/R Balance fields to the values box. I included this visual in our dashboard example just to show that you can also display data in a traditional table format in addition to more visual displays of the data.

Now push the Publish icon near the top of Power BI to publish the file to your Personal Workspace on the online Power BI service.

Adjust the Dashboard for Phone View

From your account on the Power BI service, go to the report you just published. Power BI considers what you published to be a report. Now we want to take two of the visuals on the report and “pin” them to a dashboard.

Hover over the KPI visual and you will see a pin icon. Click on that pin to “pin visual” to a dashboard. Name the new dashboard you are creating. Then do the same thing on the Line and Stacked Column chart.

Near the top right side of the Power BI service is an option to choose “phone view” as shown in the image below.

bi-data-visualization-2

Select Phone View and you can move the visuals around and resize them so they will like good on your phone.

Here is what mine looks like in phone view:

bi-data-visualization-3

Download the Power BI App to Your Smartphone

Now it’s time to download the Power BI Mobile app on your phone. You can grab it at the iTunes store or Google Play store. Once you download the app, open it and log in using your Power BI credentials. Then open the dashboard.

There you go. You created a cool dashboard and got it up and running on your computer and smartphone really fast.

You can download a ZIP file with the actual Power BI Desktop file (.pbix) and the data file I used to create the dashboard here.

My article on Using a Dashboard for the Metrics that Matter shows an example of a more robust version of an interactive dashboard that uses the same weekly financial information we just loaded. It gives you a flavor for how to add more robust visual reports and dashboards in Power BI.

BI for Everyone

The changes going on in the Business Intelligence (BI) world are making it easier than ever before to create some fun dashboards and visual representations of data that get people’s attention… and helps them make better business decisions.

Power BI is a fantastic tool to help you drive growth, profitability, and cash flow in your business. Try it! I hope you love it as much as I do. 

Ready to master your business finances? Get our ebook to learn how to effectively manage your working capital and operate more efficiently.

A Business Owner's Guide to Benchmarking

Philip Campbell

Consultant, Author

Philip Campbell is a CPA, consultant, and author of the book A Quick Start Guide to Financial Forecasting: Discover the Secret to Driving Growth, Profitability, and Cash Flow Higher. This new book provides a straightforward, easy-to-understand guide to one of the most powerful financial tools in business: a reliable financial forecast. He is also the author of the book Never Run Out of Cash: The 10 Cash Flow Rules You Can’t Afford to Ignore. The book is a step-by-step guide for business owners and managers who want to better understand and manage their cash flow. Since 1990, Philip has served as a financial officer in a number of growing companies with revenues ranging from $5,000,000 million to over $1,000,000,000. He has been involved in the acquisition or sale of 33 companies (and counting) as well as an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. Philip loves helping entrepreneurs and business owners think strategically about the financial side of their business. His consulting work is focused on providing the financial insights that leaders need to increase profits, improve cash flow, and enjoy the fruits of financial success in business. What really sets Philip apart from the average financial person you meet is his passion and excitement about helping entrepreneurs and CEOs take control of their cash flow. In fact, early on in his career, he focused and “preached” so much about the importance of cash flow that people now call him CASH. Philip is the founder of Financial Rhythm, a website devoted to people who are serious about creating financial health, wealth, and freedom in their business. If you're an entrepreneur or business owner, Financial Rhythm is a place to get simple, actionable strategies for creating a financial future that is bigger and brighter than your past. Philip lives in Austin, Texas. You can email Philip at pcampbell@pdq.net.
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